- Some guy walks up to Tesla owner says he needs to donate money in order to receive inheritance
- They conveniently meet third party two guys convince Tesla owner they need to pull money out of the bank to show guy number 1 that banks are safe or something like that
- Tesla owner pulls $17k out of savings and $3k from cash advance on his credit card
- Tesla owner told he has all the money in his center console
- Tesla owner lets guys out to “pray about what to do” and told to circle the block
- Tesla owner find rolled up newspaper in his center console
On the morning of June 3, 2019 at approximately 10a, I was approached by a man in the Berkeley REI/Chipotle Parking lot. My black 2018 Tesla Model 3 Dual motor was parked in the REI lot side closest to San Pablo, but facing Chipotle – somewhere between REI & Chipotle. It looks like every black model three, with the exception of the 19 inch rim upgrade that’s been powder coated/painted black – a much more less common occurrence.
I was returning from REI, had opened my trunk and in the process of placing my bag and purchases made from REI when a man approached me asking/needing help.
He showed me a piece of paper with an address and a name of some organization which he told me was to specifically help people of color/ in need. He claimed to be from Sierra Leone, having just arrived on Friday because his brother who had been a “head doctor” at UC Berkeley had died and he was the only brother to claim his inheritance.
He had met with his brother’s lawyer (see attached notes that he shared with me), who shared his brother’s last request – to take $180,000.00 and anonymously donate it to churches, charities and people in need. But he had to do it all before he went back to Sierra Leone. And when he did, he would have access to an even larger sum of money/inheritance.
What made everything immediately crazy and put me in a state of duress/anxiety where I went from skepticism to wanting to protect/help this guy, he showed me a small bag / fanny pack (I can’t be sure exactly what it was, but i think it was beige/light cloth colored) full of rolls of $100 bills and was quick to give me money/pay me to help him. He was throwing around money and had what appeared to be a crazy amount of it. He played the part of wanting to unload and give it to people in need – specifically people of color.
He also played the part of very naive foreigner, never having been to America and having distrust for everything and everyone, given how everything was dealt with in his home country. He kept asking if him and I had equal rights in this country, if woman had the same rights, and that he was very cautious of people because in his country non-whites were second class citizens. At the time, dumbfounded by the situation and frankly alerted and scared by him having so much money on hand and throwing it around at me, I couldn’t see the contradiction in his trust/distrust. He claimed to not be able to read English.
At some point early on, he gave me the letter from his brother’s lawyer outlining his last wishes (attached) and walked away. That is when I thought it was crazy and no one would believe my story, so I took photos of the two documents as his back was turned. I was not wise enough to take a photo of him or the accomplice I was soon to meet.
Basically, I saw a man from another country struggling with his situation, one that could get seriously hurt/in trouble. Walking around with $180,000.00 is insane for anyone, let alone this naïve foreigner trying to donate it to churches and individual homeless people.
The man also told a story of trying to get somewhere via taxi, asked the gentleman in the taxi where he might be able to find a place to donate some money… the address he first showed me I was told was given to him by the taxi driver. Then somehow he was left by the taxi driver, but not before he paid him $500 for his “help.”
So… in the REI/Chipotle parking lot, I agreed to help him. I figured that this crazy story and man needed help… he was walking around with $180k on him (though in retrospect, that is such a large amount of money that even in rolled up wads of $100 bills, he probably couldn’t have had $180k on him).
After reading the note and seeing that he had to give away $180k in $1,000 increments, I had suggested we go back to my house, get envelopes and divide up the money and I would then safely drive him to places where he can quickly anonymously drop off his donations. I figured that spending the day with him to ensure his safety, and contribute to such a crazy and powerful story was worth my time. And honestly, I figured that if he offered to pay me a little bit of money, it would more than cover my time. So, I didn’t see any downside other than the time spent away from projects I needed to work on – but in seeing the bigger picture, I didn’t hesitate to help him.
So he got in my car, and for whatever reason I can’t remember, he got me to pull over while we were still in the REI parking lot after he got in my car and I told him I’d help him.
I pulled over on the Walgreen’s side of the parking lot where I guess he started to second guess what he was supposed to do and asked me to pull over / stop. The whole situation was high anxiety given the stakes/amount of money on him. I was stressed for him and wanted to try to “stabilize” the situation, when another gentleman walked by the car… he saw that he was “brown”, opened the window or door to stop him.
He waived the piece of paper with the name of the organization he was trying to help/find when the second gentleman took it from him and they engaged in conversation. The second gentlemen proceeded to look up the address in his phone and confirmed (like I had), that the address was not good. The original gentleman then recounted the story he had told me of the taxi cab driver. The second guy then told him not to trust those guys and was apologetic to him on behalf of people here… and then quickly gave him $5 and said good bye. Original guy was in my front seat and the two had been talking through my front passenger side window.
This set off another chain where the original guy played the part of “I don’t need your money” and was offended/excited. The guy came back to apologize, at which point the original guy started showing all of the money in his bag. Just like I did, the second guy reacted in surprise and told him to put it away. The original guy then recounted that he had come here for his brother’s death and had just come from the lawyers trying to do the last request of his dead brother.
The second man then tried to educate him on how dangerous it is for him to be walking around with that amount of money on him… that he was crazy. That if people would find out, that he could be and will be killed for it. Starting at this point, every time the second guy would advise/warn him, the original guy looked to me for approval/validation. From then on, he would refer to me as “my first friend in America” and warmly show appreciation for watching over him.
In describing their looks, the original man is probably somewhere in his 60s. He wasn’t either obese or skinny, tall or short (compared to me, I am 5’6”). He was probably somewhere between 5’5” – 5’8”… I remember him being around eye level.
He claimed it be from Sierra Leone, so guessing that’s not where he is from. I’d say he is a light, dark colored gentleman… possibly from an African country, though given how sophisticated these guys were, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a misdirection. When first meeting, part of his messaging was definitely wanting to help people of color like me (I’m Filipino by descent). And when his accomplice passed my car, he somehow pointed out to the guy being of similar skin color to us (can’t remember exact words).
When he first approached me, we’re so used to being approached by homeless, I did look at his dress and found it curious that he seemed to be well put together. He spoke in accented/broken English. He kept referring to the bad stuff that happened in his country, that white people were in charge and dictated everything they did. That people would get their hand chopped off for things.
I remember him being very well dressed, specifically a tie that was probably navy and pink stripes that were not too wide, but not thin – maybe less than half inch in width and diagonally crossed. I can’t exactly remember the rest of his dress, but i think he was in pants, jacket, maybe something over his button down shirt. I believe he wore glasses (not sunglasses). He carried the money in a fanny type of pack, but not sure it was exactly a fanny pack). He also told the story of his grandmother (or great grandmother) and this blue clothes that were supposed to bring trust and good luck.
The second gentleman claimed to be of Indian decent, had parents that were immigrants and was a business owner/entrepreneur. He claimed to own a Seven Eleven. When pressed for where he is from/lived, he said his business was in Oakland, but he ambiguously was from Berkeley. When I tried to exchange business cards or information, the original guy would steer us back to the task at hand… that we could exchange information later. I had earlier told him that I was a photographer and wanted take his portrait… While he emphasized staying anonymous, the original guy would come back later when sharing his appreciation tell me that I could take his portrait before the end.
I also asked where he had been sleeping, which he told me on the streets of downtown San Francisco as it’s what they do often where he is from, so it’s no big deal – added it the craziness, with the money on him – I could not see at the time that he was way too clean to have done that. At the time, I had also offered for him to sleep/stay at my house, at which point he noted that he needed to be on a plane back tonight at 9:40… I offered to drive him to the airport. He noted that when he was done donating all of the money, he would have to go back to the lawyer in the city to collect his inheritance. So I offered to drive him to the lawyer.
He would later call the lawyer, put him on speaker, introduce me. The lawyers asked me how Abdullah (name in the letter) and I told him that he was safe, that I was helping to take control and make sure he didn’t get into trouble. The lawyer reiterated to Abdullah that he had to be back at his office no later than 8pm.
So the second guy, who’s had a name of something like Johnny Noise (something like that), also seemed about the same eye-level height as me, but was more slender than the first guy who wasn’t obese, but wasn’t exactly normal weight. “Johnny” was slender, also “brown” – I think lighter in color than Abdullah. He claimed to be Indian, but didn’t exactly strike me as one. They both seemed “brown”, but a little bit ethnically ambitious. I believe Johnny had rectangular, dark/black steel rimmed glasses. I think they might have been transition lenses, whereas I don’t remember Abdullah’’s glasses specifically being sunglasses like at any point.
So… back to the interaction with both Abdullah and Johnny. Abdullah steered us to all have a conversation, after deciding the original cab driver had deceived him and he finally found two people he can trust and wanted to look in the eye – so he moved to the back seat, so Johnny could take the front seat.
Johnny then pointed out the obvious, which I had been thinking, but was anxious to help him immediately carry out asap – which was that he would never be able to donate $180k in $1k increments before he left. I explained my plan, to go back to my house, organize the money and then immediately just start driving to organizations we can find in Berkeley and Oakland. But at that tie, Abdullah explained his option to hire two people to help carry out his brothers wishes, and that he could pay them… and that he had to follow exactly his brother’s request – which I guess made it ok/less guilty to take money.
Abdullah suggested diving up the $180k. First, he told Johnny that he would give him $90k, $15k that he insisted to keep as his fee (per his brother’s direction) and $75k that he would then donate/see to people in need – from the hungry in the street, to churches and any organizations that needed it. But it all had to be done anonymously, just as his brother requested. Johnny pointed out that he he could trust him to carry out his wish, but he would have to do it in time – he couldn’t just do it all today, or tomorrow for that matter. But over time. He would then deposit it in a bank/safety deposit box… which triggered HUGE uneasiness from Abdullah and set the stage for the trust games that would follow and eventually put my $20,000 at risk – even though I thought I would be able to both protect it (in eventuality that this was not benevolent) and help him.
Abdullah harped on how things were done in his country and how there were no banks. He expressed how could we possibly give money to the bank and expect to get it back. He didn’t understand credit cards. He expressed distrust of everyone except for the three in the car.
Johnny then tried to explain how things worked. When Abdullah expressed concern about the checking/savings and traditional bank, that’s when Johnny explained to him that he’s a business owner, has plenty of cash / money that he trusts with his bank. Abdullah expressed disbelief. Johnny insisted, then came up with the idea of using his safe deposit box at Wells Fargo (the one on San Pablo and University).
While still expressing disbelief, Johnny expressed to Abdullah that he had plenty of valuables and money in his safe deposit box alone (should point out that Johnny had what appeared to be a pretty audacious gold, diamond studded ring on his left hand and Abdullah made sure to point that out when we first met Johnny… he also pointed out and made mention, asking me about blood diamonds and having small bag of them which he claimed was also part of the inheritance from his brother).
As Abdullah and I started to form a trust relationship, Abdullah handed me the bag of about three or four “blood diamonds” and said I should have them. I graciously accepted, continuing my state of disbelief and high anxiety… I just wanted to get this all resolved and money put in banks or whatever.
After going back and forth for a while on trusting/not trusting banks, Abdullah ended up came back to the idea of “if I set it with my own eyes” I can trust banks. And Abdullah wanted to see from Johnny that he could take out a large sum of money from his bank/safe deposit box – so that if Abdullah trusted his money with both of us, he can feel good if we were to put money in banks ourselves – where we trust to put our own money – and the more that we trusted with the bank, the more he could trust us to carry out and protect the money he would be trusting to us.
We then proceeded from the REI parking lot, down San Pablo to the Wells Fargo – but Abdullah was insistent not to be near the banks, worried the he didn’t have the privilege that myself and “Johnny” had, and that something bad would happen if he got too close. He also expressed concern that after Johnny would go to the bank, some white man would hit him and knock him down. It was all crazy talk, but he was playing the part well that the whole things was so crazy, it was believable. The large sums of real money he had made it too believable.
So, I made a left on University Avenue, but then being distracted by trying to talk to Abdullah who was in the back seat, I missed the first turn into the adjacent parking lot immediately after making the left turn onto University Avenue from San Pablo. I took the next possible left turn street, then made my way to the shared big lot behind the BBQ place across from the San Pablo Wells Fargo.
I first started to turn into the first immediate space on the left side, but Abdullah wanted to see Johnny walk to the bank, so I turned the car around and parked it so that the front faced outward. Abdullah kept emphasizing the idea that “seeing is believing” in his distrust for banks, ie. trust for us – since he was empowering us with the responsibility of looking after the money he would trust us to carry out for his brother.
For whatever reason, moments later as we talked, a parking lot security guard (I believe) car came over right in front of us. All three of us where in concert for the very moment, where we didn’t want to attract attention, so I pulled the car out and moved it to the far side of the lot closest to University Avenue – probably a couple of spaces from the last spot on the end of University. I didn’t face it forward that time, due to how tight things were with an adjacent truck/building. Johnny then went to Wells Fargo to retrieve the $40k to demonstrate that Abdullah can trust banks and us… I suppose the $40k seemed big, but not in comparison to the $180k that Abdullah had in hundred dollar rolls in his pouch. My heart was continuously racing and I was under some crazy duress – ready for all of it to be resolved. But I suppose I empathized with Abdullah’s behavior given what seemed to be the circumstances. Foreign land, big responsibility, just wanting to do his brother right.
While we sat in the back of the car, Abdullah continued his story of needing to help others and trust in myself and Johnny… if Johnny did indeed make it back from the bank safely. He said that even if Johnny didn’t come back, he wanted me to help him… “his first friend.” He also then took the time to express his desire for people to get helped, but that he wouldn’t have use for any money in Sierra Leone. All he needs/wants is his family. I told him about my family, how my wife has a business where she’s trying to help other families and children.
He then told me that he wanted me to take care of the larger money from the lawyer, that he wanted me to come back to SF and have everything signed over to me. That I should take/use money to help with my wife who’s helping children/families and that he trusted me to see to the rest to help others – no matter how small/big… people on the street who needed food, churches and other people. I couldn’t believe it.
I imagined the story this would be… I thought about all the investment myself and my wife were making towards trying to start our own businesses and following our dreams/passions and how it’s just crazy that this was happening. We could take a little financial pressure of ourselves, dedicate time to figuring out a strategy and execution of donating to those people in need. This guy trusted me to do all this. As my heart raced, I was touched. As he told some stories, I even looked at him closely as my eyes began to swell. It had not dawned on me that he was about to try to test my own “trust” in this circle of trust game/scam I was about to discover.
So, as Johnny came back, he came back with a blue pouch with “Wells Fargo” written on it. It was a blue fake leather type of zippered money pouch and certainly had a ton of money in it. Johnny tiptoed the line of unwavering trust in the guy, with patience/impatience & firmness as the two navigated this game together to get me sold in.
Once Johnny had gained Abdullah’s trust and assured Abdullah that banks could be trusted, it was evidently my turn. During this whole experience, Abdullah would look at each of us and ask “do you trust him… yes… do you trust him… yes…” repeating at timely moments.
Abdullah then went to me and reinforced the idea that he wanted to see in his own eyes that my chosen bank, or wherever I kept my money, could be trusted. I waffled back and forth between saying the house (or my “Shanty”… which he jokingly referred to his house and explained he had one room in his shanty… I told him we had three bedrooms in my shanty” and going to my bank (I didn’t have a safety security deposit box). I certainly didn’t want to just “deposit” $90k… I wanted to get the situation resolved, put the money in a safe place – either my home, or open a security deposit box at my known local branch. The thought racing through my mind is keep this moving forward, get safe, and then seek advice/sort out what to do – even if it started with my bank branch manager. I figured everything would sort itself out. I frankly wasn’t too concerned about what Johnny was planing to do, though he obviously seemed believable enough, as I was about getting the money to a safe place and getting Abdullah off the street and back to his lawyer. That said, when Abdullah had initially mentioned he slept on the street, that I offered for him to sleep at our house. When I first met him, I offered to take him to the house for a coffee and snack, so we can figure out how to carry out a plan. When he questioned my ability to keep money secure and safe, I told him I trusted my house and the bank. But thankfully I told him I keep all of my money in the bank… who knows where else this cold have gone if I told him otherwise.
So, despite Johnny having shown a safe return from his bank, he and I continued to assure Abdullah that all would be fine – that America is not like where he came from. Yet, he started to question my financial means and stability – moments after he offered to give me the entire inheritance to personally take a fee and be trusted to carry out getting to people in need. I even told him about how my wife and I provide Carys with a weekly allowance and that she has “spend/give/save” jars and she gets about $3 / week to put in… and that she both has given money to the hungry/homeless on the street, but also to help the frogs. Abdullah then said, “I want you to give her $1000 for each jar!” While still anxious, I guess I became a little sensitized as it provided some comic relief as I imagined my soon to be five year old daughter handing out cash to the homeless 1000x. I imagined myself giving out cash all the time to people in need.
Of note, when Johnny supposedly came back from Wells Fargo, he pulled out a wad of money in his pocket showing Abdullah that he’s prepared to give money out immediately. I also wanted to point out that when were still in the Walgreens/REI parking lot, Johnny had taken it his huge stack of credit cards as he claimed to be a business owner.
So, onto my turn, I believe Abdullah reinforced that he believes what he sees and asked me if I can take out and have access to $40k. I told him I simply don’t have it. He had asked about credit card and bank cards, so took mine out and tried to educate him on the difference between a credit card and debit card. I explained that there was money I had and money that could be borrowed/cash advanced. He kept asking me how much. At this point, I simply wanted to assure him that I as a person to be trusted to manage money. I literally called up my Chase card phone number on speaker phone in the car, asked them to verify my line of credit and cash advance line for all of my Chase Credit Cards – three of them. Both Johnny and Abdullah listened in. As I write this now, I see how absurd this is, but in the moment it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I probably was also denying the belief that he’d ask me to go take money out and that this act of good faith would be enough. It wasn’t, and he pressed… leaning heavily into the responsibility on his shoulders, and with $180k in cash, $90k of which just transferred over to Johnny pretty smoothly, it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. He asked how much I can show him and he landed on $20k as I tried to explain to him what I had i cash – around $10k and what he heard as my cash advance limits. Johnny chimed in and tried to explain the fees I’d have to pay with the cash advances, and we snickered at the high interest rates when we were on the phone with the bank – Abdullah said he’d pay for the fees on the cash advances. My plan was to take the money out, show it to him, then immediately deposit it back in.
We started to drive, I aimed for my local Chase Branch, but sensing risk, Abdullah wasn’t having it – he wanted to ensure his anonymity so he said. I told them it’s less busy, less traffic (the Chase Branch on Solano), but Johnny chimed in to assure Abdullah that it’s fine – that I can take out money from any Chase branch. We started to go down north San Pablo, but I then I believe I turned right somewhere as Johnny checked his phone to find a nearer Chase branch. There was the one at downtown by BART, but we settled on the one further down at 2390 Shattuck.
I parked the car the next block between Channing and Haste and went to the bank myself. At first they were going to stay in the car, but then they ended up getting out and I think walking down further on Shattuck away from the bank. Abdullah later joked about “shaking the bush” and taking a piss around the corner on Haste, after you turn off Shattuck – he pointed to the vicinity to some dumpsters. I forgot about this in my initial report, but it could be important in case there are any cameras there. It would be at the same time stamp I took money out of the bank.
In going to the bank, I had decided that while I was taking the money out, I could not put it at risk like Johnny had done. I would go as far as to show it to Abdullah and let him even hold it, but I would not step away from the money.
As I went to Chase, my heart pounding, I didn’t want to create my own scene. I somehow was working in concert with Abdullah and Johnny on this extraordinary path set by his brother’s death, even with a hint of doubt that this was all a scam. I figured it was too crazy to be a scam.
I proceeded to take out $17k from my personal/business savings and checking accounts, and $3k as a cash advance from one of my Chase credit cards. Two tellers helped me – initially at the disabled window, helped by a young gentleman in a sharp suit and then a Filipina woman who started her first day helped me. The young guy asked if I was buying a car… I proceeded to just be agreeable and mentioned a lot of people must do it too. He said yes. The bank didn’t have a large envelope for all that cash, so I jammed two envelopes, I believe one with $11k and the other with $9k into my side pocket, phone displaced to rear pocket. In waiting for the tellers to help me, I even tried validating the name of the insurance agent and company on the letter on my phone. I must have been in denial when in the heat of waiting for the my money to come out that the initial google search (my phone service sucks and is slow), that the search didn’t come back clean.
But then and there, I decided that I’m not getting out of the car or letting the money out of my sight. In retrospect, I can’t believe i didn’t stop right then and there or turn sentry mode on in my car to activate the model three cameras. I guess I wanted to believe. I wanted it to be true.
When I left the bank, I didn’t initially see Johnny and Abdullah on the sidewalk next to the car. They sort of appeared from nowhere, off to the parking lot side between cars, probably some 10-20 feet beyond my parked car.
We proceed to get in the car and take a right hand turn at I believe the next corner on Shattuck at Haste Street. Abdullah directed for me to pull over to the right side.
Next he then went through his routine “do you trust him… yes… do you trust him… yes. Etc. etc.” and then he proceed to wrap up the remaining $90k, pouch of 3 or 4 “blood diamonds”, asked for my money (I gave it to him) and wrapped it all in his grandmother’s black clothe. He then gave it to Johnny and started to direct that they would stand out of the car and I’d drive a loop before returning to them.
I told them I couldn’t do that. He questioned my trust and told me that he would need to find someone else. He acted worried and tried to leave. He then proceeded to get out of the car , at which point Johnny turned to me and said something along the lines of “what are you doing man? … something like “I know this is crazy, but I believe my gut …” something along those lines. So, I turned on him Abdullah who was walking away but happened to be turned towards us and I waived him back and Johnny said he’d talk to Abdullah and try to talk to him. I explained to both of them that I had to protect my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust them, but that money is for my family and they weren’t here. I pleaded to Abdullah that family is first and that’s why I couldn’t do it.
Abdullah then told me he had to exit the car and pray on what to do. Through he commotion, I had lost track of the money that had been wrapped up all together in his grandmother’s cloth. Realizing that I was about to back out, he must have done a switch right then.
When Abdullah came back, his idea was for him to leave the money with me. He said, “where did you put the money when he we left (Johhny) which was in the center console. I pointed. He told me that we’d put the money there, which we did. That I were to drive around the block while they stepped out of the car. Johnny would also be out of the car with him so if I didn’t come back with he money, he would get his help and call the police on me immediately.
I agreed. They stepped out I drove down the street, took my immediate right onto Channing so as to get back onto Shattuck. I made a right onto Shattuck, I then tried to take my next immediate right on Haste, but there was some road traffic – some construction or vehicle obstructing the street. We had experienced similar en route to Chase, so rather than sit for things to move along, I turned around and proceeded further down to the next available right turn, back onto Milvia searching for them… they weren’t to be found. I got a little bit turned around in the haste of the construction. I then pulled over and immediately checked the wrapped “money.” It wasn’t money or blood diamonds… it was rolled up newspaper.
I immediately dialed 911.